Academics and Research

Researcher explores breast cancer survivors’ connection to spirituality

For the last six years, Caryn Aviv, a Judaic Studies lecturer at DU, has been working with researchers to improve breast cancer survivors’ quality of life.

Aviv and researchers from San Francisco State University and California Pacific Medical Center are wrapping up a study this year that includes 165 participants and explores quality of life, spirituality and social support among black, Latina, Asian-American and Caucasian women after treatment.

Researchers reported they were surprised to learn how many women in the study — particularly black and Latina women  — relied on prayer, meditation and clergy.

“These two groups also credited their spirituality and their spiritual communities as the most important aspects of their cancer experience,” Aviv says. “White women expressed the least amount of reliance on anything related to spirituality or religious communities.”

Aviv says one of the important findings is that spirituality is an important and understudied component of many women’s experiences of breast cancer.

“Looking at those kinds of questions about the relationship between survivorship, healing, and spirituality should be incorporated into future studies and … programs to support survivorship,” Aviv says.

Research findings are already being put to work in the form of culturally sensitive support programs for organizations that work with breast cancer survivors. The programs include retreats, support groups and advocacy tools.

Aviv says the research is being used to bring together survivors, activists, and medical practitioners in the field to network, exchange information and support one another.

“That’s something that rarely happens in the world of breast cancer,” she says.

Last year, 44 breast cancer survivors and 20 clinicians, researchers and advocates met to discuss environmental health, sexuality, exercise, nutrition, spirituality and psychosocial needs. Another retreat is slated for June 27–30 in Foster City, Calif.

The group has published several articles and abstracts and presented at 15 international and national conferences.

Grace Yoo, associate professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, says Aviv brought “clarity and vision” to the project.  “As a qualitative sociologist, she has helped us pursue questions that we might not have examined, questions around sexuality, class and race, but also examining the work that women do that is often unrecognized — how they hold their family and friendships together even when they are experiencing a crisis like breast cancer.”

Aviv says she became interested in breast cancer and the sociology of women’s health in 1999. She began working at the University of California, San Francisco Breast Care Center. There, her work helped prepare patients to make better decisions about treatment and find complementary care such as support groups and acupuncture.

“That sparked an interest in me in how women not only move on with their lives and survive, but also how they can thrive after the experience,” Aviv says.

Aviv’s work on breast cancer is concluding with this project and she is now studying modern Jewish identities and cultures along with American Jewish involvement in Israeli-Palestinian conflict reconciliation.

Comments are closed.